“We don’t know if they’re true,” Carlson said on Monday night of Reade’s allegations. “They’re unproven. But so far, they seem to have a lot more supporting evidence than the charges against Brett Kavanaugh did, but the case is being handled very differently.”
Context: Carlson makes frequent use of his prime-time program to blast Democrats and other enemies of Fox Nation. A common refrain is that Democratic policies — particularly on immigration — convey a hatred for the United States, despite the fact that Carlson himself was a registered Democrat the last time we checked. Though delivered with Carlson’s glib and cocksure TV mouth, the arguments usually bear disqualifying omissions, distortions, tergiversations or contradictions.
An exception is emerging with the case of Reade. Night after night, Carlson has been banging away at the story, though this time the omissions and distortions are few.
There’s nothing sophisticated about the way Carlson has approached the matter. On Monday night, for example, he dialed up video of various Democratic senators assessing the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh in the fall of 2018. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), for example, made this statement: “Not only do women like Dr. Ford, who bravely come forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed. Guess who’s perpetuating all of these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country and I just want to say to the men of this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”
Another comment highlighted by Carlson came from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): “Let me just say right at the outset, I believe Dr. Ford. I believe the survivor here.”
So where are all the corresponding Democratic comments regarding Reade’s allegations? Internet search engines are having trouble with such queries. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was the first Democrat to call on former colleague Al Franken to resign over sexual harassment allegations in 2017, issued this statement: “I stand by Vice President Biden.” Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton have endorsed Biden. Many other Democrats have stayed silent on the matter.
Those positions are getting harder to reconcile with the growing Reade file. She first made her allegations on Katie Halper’s podcast in March. Nearly three weeks later, both The Post and the New York Times published investigative stories laying out new revelations about the case — some of them appearing to buttress the allegation, others appearing to challenge it. A key finding in favor of Reade’s version of events is that former interns recall that Reade suddenly stopped serving as their immediate supervisor in the spring of 1993 — reporting that appears in both the Post and the Times investigations. The mysterious sequence of events raises the prospect that Reade was the victim of retaliation, something that might anger the Democratic sensibility.
Carlson pounced on this double standard. “Just to be clear, we’re not demanding that Democrats assume Joe Biden is guilty. They shouldn’t. No one should be assumed guilty. We certainly don’t assume he is guilty. But it’s a little weird that they don’t take this seriously. That would mean, in fact, we’re starting to conclude that their attempt to destroy Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t based on any genuine belief that he committed those crimes,” said the host.
“Instead, it’s looking increasingly like a cynical political ploy: Destroy a man and his family, his children, his two little girls in order to get power. It looks like that’s what they did. You should keep that in mind going forward.”
Not a bad summation, even if it does come from a network that doubled as a sexual harassment hot spot during the reign of late network chief Roger Ailes.
News outlets looking to provide cover for Biden risk the same exposing the same hypocrisies. Mother Jones opinion writer Kevin Drum on Wednesday took a hike on the journalistic high wire, attempting to hop inside of Reade’s cogitations: “[O]ver the years the incident grew in her mind until eventually her story gelled into what she says today: that Biden pushed her against a wall and stuck his hand up her dress.” Mother Jones removed the post shortly after its publication. Writing in Slate, Ashley Feinberg noted how Drum’s argument reprised conservative dismissals of Ford’s case during the Kavanaugh circus. Republican Sen. Susan Collins told “60 Minutes” in 2018: “She was clearly terrified, traumatized, and I believed that a sexual assault had happened to her. What I think she is mistaken about is who the perpetrator was. I do not believe her assailant was Brett Kavanaugh.”
Mother Jones Editor in Chief Clara Jeffery didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the site would be republishing the piece. (Disclosure: The Erik Wemple Blog’s wife is a staff writer at Mother Jones).
Recent developments have kept Reade’s allegations in the public square. A clip of a woman calling into Larry King’s CNN show in 1993 has surfaced: “My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.” Reade says that was her late mother, referencing her situation. And former NBC News investigative reporter Rich McHugh has revealed in Business Insider that two additional “sources have come forward to corroborate certain details about Reade’s claims.” Both are on the record and recounted conversations with Reade from the 1990s.
The snowballing effect has led to calls on Biden to address the allegations. The Washington Post editorial board on Wednesday issued just such a request. “There are, at the moment, no clear conclusions,” reads the editorial, taking note of the contemporaneous accounts of Reade’s claim as well as “inconsistencies” in her retelling and denials from her supervisors at the time.
The demand that Biden speak up — instead of circulating denials through his campaign — would be moot today if not for the fecklessness of various TV networks. NewsBusters reports that ABC, NBC, CNN and MSNBC all had interviews with Biden since the allegations emerged, though not one of the 77 questions zeroed in on the Reade case. The Erik Wemple Blog has contacted the networks in search of an explanation for these omissions. We will update this post with any on-the-record responses.
It may well be that the networks hadn’t vetted the story to their satisfaction, that they were focused on coronavirus, and so on. But if the networks can’t be bothered to press a presidential candidate on a widely circulated and increasingly corroborated allegation, maybe it’s time to pack up the cameras and makeup kits.
The coming weeks will see more investigation, more chatter, more efforts to get Democrats to comment on the Reade allegations. Each step along the way will furnish fresh material for comparison, because media organizations have set precedents for themselves with extensive coverage of #MeToo stories that remain vivid in recent memory. Never before have media organizations been so intertwined with the hurly-burly of political controversy, a point made emphatically this week by the New York Times.
A story by BuzzFeed revealed that the Biden campaign had circulated talking points seizing on the New York Times’s Reade investigation to assert that “this incident did not happen.” In response, the New York Times provided this statement:
BuzzFeed reported on the existence of talking points being circulated by the Biden campaign that inaccurately suggest a New York Times investigation found that Tara Reade’s allegation “did not happen.” Our investigation made no conclusion either way. As BuzzFeed correctly reported, our story found three former Senate aides whom Reade said she complained to contemporaneously, all of whom either did not remember the incident or said that it did not happen. The story also included former interns who remembered Reade suddenly changing roles and no longer overseeing them, which took place during the same time period that Reade said she was abruptly reassigned. The Times also spoke to a friend who said Reade told her the details of the allegation at the time; another friend and Reade’s brother say she told them of a traumatic sexual incident involving Biden.
That’s a sure sign that the era of “The story speaks for itself” is over.